10 Consequential Days: How Biden Navigated War, Covid and the Supreme Court
Sunday, Feb. 20
If there was one message that Mr. Biden wanted to reinforce for his National Security Council in the Situation Room on Sunday morning, it was that the United States remained “in lock step with allies and partners,” as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken put it later.
That desire was at the core of the American response that Mr. Biden had devised with Mr. Blinken; Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser; and others. The results would become clear soon enough, as Mr. Biden’s team repeatedly waited for European nations to issue sanctions before following suit.
Diplomacy, including a 15-minute call between Mr. Biden and President Emmanuel Macron of France, had done little to calm Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who had grown frustrated by Mr. Biden’s warnings of an invasion. On the way back from the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Mr. Biden from Air Force Two.
She had repeated to Mr. Zelensky that the United States believed a Russian invasion was imminent, she told Mr. Biden. And she had assured Ukraine’s president that the administration was ready to issue economic penalties along with its European allies.
But questions of war and diplomacy gave way — briefly — to issues of public health. That afternoon, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s top public health adviser, arrived with some good news: We might finally be able to take off our masks.
Mr. Biden had been under increasing pressure from Democratic governors to address the anxiety among voters exhausted by the restrictions. But, as he had promised, he was waiting for the C.D.C. Federal health officials had been working for weeks on guidance that suggests that 70 percent of Americans would be able to stop wearing masks, the beginning of a transition from a pandemic to an endemic disease that would become a part of everyday life.
But on that Sunday, he had little time to dwell on the pandemic. By later in the afternoon, aides had ushered him into the State Dining Room, where a lectern was waiting. It was his first opportunity to practice an early draft of his State of the Union address.